In 1998, Disney studios released their latest animated movie Mulan. It popularised the legend of the girl who took her father’s place in the army. The legend arose from a poem written during the Northern Wei Dynasty ( 4th – 6th century) in a time when Northern China was ruled by nomadic invaders.
The story has a strong appeal to me especially the relationship between father and daughter – as I have two daughters. Mulan is a woman not caught up in how she looks. She follows her heart and wants to do the right thing for others
Who was Mulan – was she a real or her legend?
Let me tell you her story.
A long time ago in Northern China, the Great Wall came under attack. The Huns had invaded from the North. The Khan (who was the ruler of northern China) needed reinforcements for his armies and sent his generals throughout the land to conscript the head man from each family.
In a village in northern China there lived a girl named Mulan. She sat at her loom weaving cloth. Click-clack, click-clack went the loom.Suddenly the sound of weaving changed to sorrowful sighs. “Mulan – what troubles you” – her mother asked.“Nothing Mother”, Mulan softly replied.Mulan started to sob.
Her mother asked her again and again. “Why are you sad?”Mulan finally said. “Invaders are attacking. The Emperor is calling fortroops. Last night I saw twelve scrolls of names posted in the market square. The Khan is drafting a mighty army and Father’s name is on every one.”“But Father is old and frail” – Mulan sighed“How can he fight? He has grown old and I have no elder brother.”
Mulan made a decision. “I must fight in father’s place. I will go to the markets and buy a saddle and a horse”. From the eastern market Mulan bought a horse.and from the western market, a saddle.From the northern market she bought a bridleand from the southern market, a whip.Mulan cut her long flowing hair and prepared for her journey.
At dawn, Mulan dressed in her father’s armor and bid a sad farewell to her mother and father. She mounted her horse and rode away.By nightfall she was camped on the bank of the Yellow River. She didn’t hear the sound of her Father and Mother calling for their daughter but only the sounds of the flowing water.
At sunrise Mulan took leave of the Yellow River. At dusk she reached the peak of the Black Mountain. In the darkness she longed to hear her father’s voice but heard only the neighing of enemy horses far away.
Mulan reached the armies of the Khan. She rode ten thousand miles to fight a hundred battles along side her country men. She crossed peaks and passes like a bird in flight. Nights at the camp were harsh and cold but Mulan endured every hardship. Knowing that her father was safe, warmed her heart.
The war dragged on. Fierce battles ravaged the land. One after another, noble generals lost their lives.But Mulan’s skill and courage won her respect and rank. After ten years, she returned as a great general, triumphant and victorious!
The Khan summoned Mulan to the High Palace. He praised her for her bravery and leadership in battle. He bestowed many great titles upon her. He showered her with gifts of gold.The Khan asked: “Worthy General, you may have your heart’s desire”
“I have no need for honors or gold”, Mulan replied. “All I ask for is swift horse to take me back home.The Khan sent a troop to escort Mulan on her trip.
In Mulan’s home town the news of her return created great excitement.Her proud parents, holding each other, walked to the village gate towelcome her. A pig and a sheep were prepared for a feast in Mulan’s honor.
Home at last!
Mulan threw open her bedroom door and smiled. She removed the armour and changed into one of her favorite dresses. She brushed out her shiny black hair and placed a yellow flower on one side. She looked into the mirror and smiled again, happy to be home.
What a surprise it was when Mulan appeared at the door! Her comrades were astonished and amazed. “How is this possible?” they asked. “How could we have fought side by side with you for ten years and not know you were a woman?”
Mulan replied They say that the male rabbit likes to hop and leap, while the female rabbit prefers to sit still. But in times of danger, when the two rabbits scurry by, who can tell male from female?
Mulan’s glory spread through the land. And to this day throughout China people sing of this brave woman who loved her family and served her country asking for nothing in return.
Ode to Mulan poem – English and Chinese
Another English translation of the poem
Wikipedia article about Hua Mulan
“Reflection” (from the Disney animation) sung by Lea Salonga